Day In the Life of an Illustrator: Phoebe Morris
Join Phoebe Morris, illustrator of The Adventures of Mittens: Wellington's Famous Purr-sonality for our Day in the Life feature. Between dodging parking wardens, agonising over crocs or topping up on coffee Phoebe gets down to the business of meeting the 'Quota' and illustrating some of your favourite picture books from Aotearoa.
When I’m illustrating a picture book, I work from Monday to Saturday and my days tend to look something like this:
I rejoin the living at 8am, then drink coffee while doom-scrolling The Guardian. If you’re a morning person you’ll find rising at this ‘late’ time of day deeply offensive and unproductive. I have absolutely nothing to say to you.
If you’re a morning person you’ll find rising at this ‘late’ time of day deeply offensive and unproductive. I have absolutely nothing to say to you.
I drive to work—a shared studio space near Cuba Street in Te Whanganui a Tara. I’ve become an expert at evading local parking wardens. If you’re wondering what my secret is, you can keep wondering. Tactically avoiding costs like this is all part of the freelance hustle.
Somewhere between my car and the studio I usually check my inbox and discover that a string of important emails have come in. The resulting combination of cortisol and caffeine ensures I'm very much awake upon arriving at work, where I say ‘good morning’ to noone because the studio is reliably empty. Once any urgent emails or admin are out of the way, it’s time to draw.
The weirdest thing about being self-employed is that you could go to work and lie face down on the floor until 5pm with almost zero consequences, if you wanted to. A lot of self discipline is required when there is nobody else around to crack the whip. I intimidate myself into productivity using a pre-planned daily drawing ‘quota’ which I have to hit each day. The Quota is the benevolent overlord of the self-employed. Long live the Quota.
I intimidate myself into productivity using a pre-planned daily drawing ‘quota’ which I have to hit each day. The Quota is the benevolent overlord of the self-employed. Long live the Quota.
There are bizarre people in this world who manage to consistently bring a packed lunch to work. Happily I am not one of them. Around midday I go and forage for sushi.
When it comes to picture books, adding colour to a page can take many hours or even days. Having music, a podcast, or a show running in the background can help to break up the time. I might end up playing the film ‘Alien Resurrection’ on one computer screen while drawing a cat leading a joyful parade on the other. This creates the kind of cognitive dissonance that can keep things spicy. If I’m working on small details I listen to music that is slow. If I’m blocking in colours or working quickly, I choose something that slaps:
3pm Second coffee
A staff member at a cafe I frequent once asked me how I would like my coffee and I said ‘straight into my veins’. Based on her expression, I’m not confident that the joke landed.
If I’m not focusing on colour, I might be focusing on details. When drawing a scene with lots of people in it you have to consider many small things. What kind of shoe is this person wearing? Are there too many sneakers in this scene already? Maybe it is time for some kind of leather, lace-up situation. Would it be too scandalous to put someone in crocs? I keep illustrated books and reference materials nearby, or use the internet for inspiration.
If I’m not focusing on colour, I might be focusing on details. When drawing a scene with lots of people in it you have to consider many small things.
Spread from The Adventures of Mittens: Wellington's Famous Purr-sonality, by Silvio Bruinsma, illustrated by Phoebe Morris, published by Penguin Books
Sometimes Taste of Home is too slammed with customers to pick up the phone. If this is the case, eating a fried chicken burger at high speed in the near darkness of the studio is another great option.
If I’ve managed to get ahead of the Quota I’ll update my accounting app, send a few more quick emails, then head home early. If not, I’ll get back to my desk and enjoy the peace and quiet of working after dark. Before I leave I’ll compare the page I’ve been working on to my earlier sketches, then scribble down fixes and reminders for the next morning.
At the end of the day I walk back to my car, check the windscreen wipers for parking tickets, and drive home with a distinct sense of accomplishment.
the adventures of mittens: wellington's famous purr-sonality
by Silvio Bruinsma
illustrated by Phoebe Morris
Phoebe (she/her) is a Pākehā freelance creative and award-winning illustrator from Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. Her work has appeared in a range of industries - from a local pest-trapping community group, to Google, and many in between. Phoebe is best known for her picture book illustrations featured in a range of children's publications; most recently ‘The Adventures of Mittens’ by Silvio Bruinsma with Penguin Random House NZ. When she’s not working commercially, Phoebe enjoys drawing perplexed animals, worrying about climate change, and aggressively encouraging her friends to watch HBO’s ‘Succession’.